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BH Actress Elizabeth Pan Featured In Rarely-Seen Valdez Work

Photo 3 By Natlalie Young

Beverly Hills actress and resident Elizabeth Pan is featured in Casa 0101’s latest production, Luis Valdez’ I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges; the first chance L.A. theatergoers have had to see the insightful comedy in 25 years.

And it turns out she has a history with the play.

In 2003 she auditioned for a production Valdez was mounting for his own famed El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista.

“There aren’t a lot of roles for Asian females in the theater,” says Pan. So she FedExed in a video audition.

She didn’t get the part. “But I might have been too young then,” admits Pan.

When she saw the notice about this latest production, she decided to go for the role she lost 10 years ago, and this time landed it. “I always choose to do a play if the material Is good,” says Pan.

Written in mid ‘80s, Badges is Lopez’ treatise on how Latino actors are portrayed in Hollywood, gleaned from his experience on the 1977 film Which Way Is Up. Valdez was able to watch the “extras” who made a game of trying to wedge themselves into every scene, whether they were supposed to be in them or not.

“Minorities didn’t get cast n lead roles that much those days, and these “extras” made a game of it. One of them had been in The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” Valdez writes.

Stereotyping and lack of roles continues today, says Pan, describing how one cast member was upset that Ben Affleck chose to play Latino Tony Mendez in Argo, rather than cast a more ethnic actor.

“When I tell my fellow cast members this kind of thing happens in the Asian community all the time,” relates Pan, “they look at me like I’m crazy. Stereotyping and lack of roles happens to actors of all ethnic groups. “Asian actors are always fighting stereotypes.”

Familiar with Casa 0101 and its founder Josefina Lopez (Real Women Have Curves), Pan was also anxious to work with the Boyle Heights theater company. “They’re professional with great artistic integrity,” she says.

“Luis is well-known in the Latino theater world; but not so much in the Asian theater,” says Pan. “So when I tell people I’m doing Stinking Badges I get funny looks. But it’s great to play this part. I know the history of this play since I studied it 10 years ago.”

One of the friends she told is Marilyn Tokuda, arts education director at East West Players, who told Pan that coincidentally, she  had played the same part 25 years ago in a production at the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theatre in Florida.

In the story, Connie and Buddy Villa take stereotypical and servile Chicano roles to make a living. They’ve made enough to send their 16-year-old prodigy son Sonny to Harvard, but after an existential breakdown he comes home with an Asian-American woman 10 years older than him.

It is Pan who plays Anita Sakai, a woman who’s escaping New York and a badly broken relationship.

The character, she says, is similar to one she played in the Center Theatre Group’s Dogeaters at the Kirk Douglas Theater. “She’s rebellious, a Madonna-wannabe; and that’s not who I am.”

The key to Anita, Pan reveals, “is that she’s wounded and fragile, like Sonny. They’ve latched onto each other and they’re finding their way.”

In 2007, Pan had the lead in the Ovation Award winner for Best New Play, Film Chinois at the Grove Theatre Center. “That character was a femme fatale; not something I usually play. I’m usually a suburban soccer mom.

“It’s interesting that Valdez chose to make her Japanese-American,” says Pan. “But it makes for cultural clashes between Anita and the Villas.”

Valdez has written, “I wrote the character as a third generation Japanese American girl because Sonny is trying to relate to Anglo reality in the play, but having a Sansei girlfriend from East Coast is like looking in a mirror.”

Not as well-known as Valdez’ Zoot Suit or La Bamba, Badges is more comedic. Set in a TV studio, the characters are playing as if in a sit-com taping before a live audience.

“Then it starts going down a darker path,” says Pan, “and then it changes to a happier ending. I think Luis is saying that we are in charge of our own endings and what we choose to have.”

Most of Pan’s work is in film, TV, commercials and voice overs and Badges marks her return to the stage after six years.

“I was burnt on on the theatre,” she says, “but after a while actors need to go back to what feeds them. I needed to do a play and rekindle my love for the stage.”

She’s enjoyed the long production process—cast in November, rehearsing since December—as opposed to the short turnaround time of her other projects.

She’s also enjoying the camaraderie—as the only non-Hispanic in the entire cast and crew—and the challenge of doing a part where she swears and does a scene where Anita has taken too much Valium. “I had to research to find out what that feels like.”

About 15 years ago Pan realized how unstable a career acting can be when she found herself flat broke. “I couldn’t even afford the S16 for a real-estate book I wanted to buy.”

So she started reading about real estate at the library, and realizing she needed a side line, became a real-estate investor. “I just jumped in.”

She’s now a landlord and hoping to acquire a third property this year. “I hoping to make it an empire,” Pan says.

“As actors, we have to get creative on how to make money and have something stable outside of acting,” Pan advises.

—Steve Simmons

I Don’t Have To Show You No Stinking Badges plays through March 10 at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturday, and 5 p.m., Sundays at Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. First St. (at Louis Street) in Boyle Heights. For tickets call the theater box office, 323-263-7684, email tickets@casa0101.org or buy online at www.casa0101.org.

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